Zatoichi and the Chess Expert (1965)

74% – Critics
74% – Audience

Zatoichi and the Chess Expert Storyline

Zatoichi makes friends with a dangerous chess player, while fending off angry yakuza and bloodthirsty relatives out for revenge, and trying to save a sick child. Meanwhile, his luck with dice is turning…—eirias

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Zatoichi and the Chess Expert Movie Reviews

Good entry in the Zatoichi series.

Good combination of humor, action and a couple of twists (although if one watches enough of the Zatoichi movies, twists should be expected). I especially thought in this movie, Zatoichi came across more human and not just the guy that hides his cleverness through bumbling. Things to watch for: Zatoichi hustling the dice players but also failing at his own game, the battle in the swamp with his desperate search for the box of medicine and not one but two suspenseful battles at the end. His discussion with the chess expert on fighting was also insightful. There are swordfights and these last a little longer than the earlier movies but no geysers of blood or decapitated limbs so stay away if you are looking for that.

Zato Ichi is possessed by the demon of compassion.

The state of blindness does not hinder the swordsman masseur, Zato Ichi, in this well-crafted tale of pre-modern Japan, as he is determined to do what is correct by assisting a young girl’s recovery from a severe wound suffered in tangential fashion during a sword-fight involving gangsters in the bandit-ridden country. Of the approximately 25 Zato Ichi films, this must rank as one of the better ones, as Shintaro Katsu who portrays the sightless samurai during the entire series, permits us to see more of the inner man behind the warrior facade, aided by an interesting story written by Kan Shimozawa, who contributes the most complex scenarios of this group of works. In early civilized Japan, all masseurs were blind, as then they could not look upon the bodies of their clients, and Zato Ichi (“Ichi the Masseur”) is following this tradition, but he is as well an inordinately successful warrior with his cane sword, mastering with cold aplomb each challenge by aggressors, no matter how many they might be. Ichi is a prototypical loner who makes his way in this work, as in all others, by massaging, while handsomely adding to his income through his cheating skills at gambling, since he is also an inveterate confidence man, yet one who makes mistakes and these errors in judgement serve in strengthening his accessibility to the viewer. There is a pleasingly intricate plot, which places Ichi as a travelling companion of an itinerant samurai named Jumonji, played well by Mikio Narita in his first cinematic role, who is the chess expert of the English language title, and the two interact with several other groups of characters in a neatly-woven narrative. The complicated scenario is capably handled by veteran director of samurai motion pictures, Kenji Misumi, who later added other outstanding Zato Ichi films to this first one in his list, as he balances the interwoven dramatics neatly and nicely. Reasons for the societal and artistic success of this series are manifest in this film, wherein Ichi represents values that most peoples are struggling to identify and capture, with the blind swordsman becoming an iconic figure as he stumbles and totters, rather than riding, into the sunset, after completing his clash with evil.

Zatoichi series enters it’s stride

The year is now 1965 and this is the twelfth entry in the Zatoichi series. Far from being stale, Zatoichi and the Chess Master heralds the start of a three film run of some of the best the series has to offer. Katsu Shintaro is now fully adept in his role as Zatoichi and director Misumi Kenji does an excellent job with the material. The story is full of surprises and little twists and turns. Some people compare Zatoichi to Columbo, and it’s easy to see why here.

There is not a great deal of fighting in the film, but there is suspense and great character development. Two scenes are especially moving. First, when the little girl (Miki) is cured thanks to the medicine that Zatoichi procures at great danger to himself. Miki thanks Zatoichi, and Zatoichi is all choked up. All he can do is run out of the room, full of emotion, and truly blind. He runs head first into a wooden pole, stops, and pounds his head into the pole a few more times. The second memorable scene is the scene where the Chess Master (Jumonji) begins to believe that Zatoichi has the crime figured out. Zatoichi leaves the room, the two are only separated by a thin shoji screen. Jumonji slowly grabs for the hilt of his sword. On the other side of the screen, Zatoichi stands completely still, his hand moves towards the hilt of his sword. A tense moment ensues before Jumonji relaxes and so do we all!

Zatoichi feels the Force. Now he probably passes his time practicing with Yoda somewhere far, far away.